By Roy Revie
Earlier this month the Guardian reported a military parade in Esfahan marking Iran’s Army Day in which military placards warned of the dangers of Western cultural influence. Emphasis was given, in a sort of ‘what will they think of next’ way, to a poster warning of the “damages of the Facebook internet site” – pictured here. The image certainly does seem strange – until you look into the context. The Iranian regime have been talking about a “soft war” being waged against it by a “cultural NATO” intent on undermining the ideology of the Islamic Republic for a while now. Ridicule and claims of paranoia have hitherto been the primary response from the West – this is regrettable as some of the underlying issues are of key importance for contemporary foreign policy, and the internet’s role in political change.
Typical of Western reports about Iranian concerns over ‘soft war’ is a recent AP article, which uses the term to contextualise Iranian schemes as various as a “hack-proof communications network for [the IRGC’s] high-level commanders”, possibly involving – shock horror! – “special relay towers and passcodes” (something surely recognised universally as a military necessity); fear of “internet espionage and viral attacks from abroad”; the attempt to “choke off opposition outlets at home”; and accusations that internet tools like Google and Facebook are instruments of espionage. The first two examples obviously reflect the understandable sense of being besieged the Iranian regime feels and hints at countermeasures we would expect any sovereign state to take – the leap to internal repression in the later examples seem to go beyond this, however in terms of taking defensive measures against foreign states, they can be conceptually situated on a threat continuum that goes from Stuxnet right through to Twitter.